Gail Tsukiyama: Novelist

It’s our responsibility as writers, I think, to not let go of the fact that we need to tell a good story, and that we don’t take shortcuts.

Women of the Silk – 1991
Samurai's Garden
– 1995
Night of Many Dreams – 1998
The Language of Threads – 1999
Dreaming Water – 2002
Street of A Thousand Blossoms – 2007
A Hundred Flowers – 2012

Awards & Honors:
Academy of American Poets Award
Judge for the Kiriyama Book Prize -1997-99

Appeared as one of nine fiction authors at the first Library of Congress National Book Festival – 2001
PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award- 2003

Gail's mother was a painter, and the El Cerrito home is filled with her work.

This is the house Gail and her brother grew up in. Designed by an architect in the 1960s, it is nestled in the hills with a wonderful view of the bay on the back. They take turns staying here and keeping it up.

And this is that wall of tiny windows from the inside. It gives light but little view of the street.

A view from a spot near Gail's El Cerrito house. It was a hazy day so you can barely make out the San Francisco skyline.

Gail's mother, Grace, did the artwork in the pillows that decorate the living room. You can see a mother-daughter portrait on the cover of "In Sync" magazine tucked behind the couch with paintings.

Gail signing our book in the dining area.

We met Gail Tsukiyama in a cloud of joyous laughter at the El Cerrito home she grew up in and now lives in part time. The rest of her time is spent in her Napa Valley home or on the road. It is hard to reconcile the image of the tiny, quiet girl Gail says she was in her youth with the vivacious woman she is today. She says that writing gave her a voice and she "hasn't been able to shut up since."

Gail's father was Japanese from Hawaii, and researching that side of her heritage was part of the impetus for The Samurai's Garden. It was also a gift to her mother – a story about her mother's favorite brother. Her mother, who was Hong Kong Chinese and an artist, left her lasting imprint throughout Gail's house with her art. Gail's work is very visual, which she attributes to her love of film, working in cultures unfamiliar to most of her readers. It is likely that the art she was surrounded with contributed to the visual language she uses in her story telling.

Although Gail started college as a film major, she soon changed to creative writing, especially poetry. She won a poetry prize and

then used her poetic training to write lyrical, tightly woven stories. She says that writers need to "take time, not space" to tell their stories.

Gail clearly lives an intentional and joyful life. Whether she is speaking, teaching, writing, reading, researching, puttering in her garden, putting her feet up and having a glass of wine or helping get clean water and books to people who don't have it, she is alive, alert, bright, energetic and delighted.

Gail gave us the three highlights of her life. I'll give you two here, but the third is surprising and I'll leave it to your interview experience:

  1. Holding her first book in her hands–in hardcover!

  2. Speaking to a room full of people about her work and seeing her high school teachers and dean in the front row.

We loved meeting Gail and doing this interview, and we are sure you will enjoy it.

Interview Movie
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Audio File
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El Cerrito, CA

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El Cerrito, CA

Youthful Influence:

Her grandmother's and mother's ''Talk Stories," and films. Her mother reading. Exploring cultures and customs. Willa Cather, My Antonia, Jane Austen, Persuasion, and the film Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.

Favorite Authors:

Mary Renault, Iris Murdoch (for dialogue), Basho, John Steinbeck and Raymond Carver.

Creative Habit:

She is a highwire writer-no outline. Her best writing is done at night, and she usually reads for fun while she is writing, to help get the juices flowing. She also listens to music, with and without lyrics. She writes 1/2 the book and then goes back and reads it "like a reader, not a writer," because, she says, writing is like a marriage and sometimes you want a divorce from your book. You have to be passionate about it.

Gail was somewhat shy about all the photos. But what could be better to top off an interview than a beautiful woman laughing.

Orchids grace many of the surfaces in the Tsukiyama household.

A portrait of Gail's mother


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